Burden of Parasites in Belize

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The Toledo district of southern Belize has the highest poverty rate in Belize.  It’s a sparsely populated area which is hiding a shocking secret.  Over 60% of the children in this area have a gastro-intestinal worm infection.  Due to the remote location of many of its inhabitants, it is proving difficult to obtain accurate data on the types of worm infection as well as its long-term health consequences.  Intestinal parasites are responsible for severe malnutrition, stunting and decreased cognitive performance in school-aged children.  This sad correlation leads to decreased ability for education as well as long-term health.  The long-term effects of this is staggering.  An entire generation of children are having their adult lives stripped of earning potential and physical capability.  Something needs to be done in order to stem the tide of this shocking and easily mitigated health problem.

From:http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P120349/bz-­‐jsdf-­‐ improving-­‐childrens-­‐health?lang=en&tab=overview

From:http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P120349/bz-­‐jsdf-­‐
improving-­‐childrens-­‐health?lang=en&tab=overview

The government of Belize requested assistance from the World Bank in 2007.  A project has subsequently commenced in the area to further quantify this problem .  It’s a small project that has a lofty and unreachable goal.  The problem is that this issue does not have any political voice.  This area is the poorest in a poor country, with immense cultural diversity without one strong voice.  They are the neglected people of Central America who need international recognition and pressure from the government to continue the work that the small World Bank project has begun.  As anyone in international health knows – important projects fail due to public disinterest leading to political forgetfulness.

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3 Responses to “Burden of Parasites in Belize”

  1. kmoore44 Says:

    I think this is a perfect case for thinking about international health priorities. It seems that certain places and certain diseases attract a lot of attention, not only from international health organizations, but from national governments and NGOs as well. Unfortunately, many of the problems in poorer areas of the world get overlooked. As in this case, it is difficult for poor communities to mobilize the resources necessary to take care of the problem themselves or draw attention to its health needs. Along with quantifying the problem of intestinal parasites, someone trying to intervene in Toledo should consider how to improve infrastructure and living conditions there as a means of prevention. By doing that, one may also be able to target other health problems that plague poor communities. I also think we should take the time to think about how we prioritize health needs on an international, national, and local level. Hopefully with some self-reflection and a greater understanding of how these decisions get made, we can try to reduce the number of overlooked cases like Toledo.

  2. afitzgallagher Says:

    It is interesting to see you write that the project goal of a health survey and health program implementation is lofty and unreachable. The picture you paint of this region in Belize is certainly a bleak one; however, it seems like they are receiving some recognition through this grant. Despite the rather large task ahead,do you think the right steps are being taken or do you feel like there are large gaps in the grant implementation process? I wonder how much the Ministry of Health and others involved in the JSDF grant will involve the targeted communities in this project. Since the community is cut off and extremely impoverished, I would propose that involving the community in any health program would be beneficial. After they are able to quantify the specific health problems through the survey, arranging community directed treatments aimed at ANC, neonatal care, infant and under five nutrition is one possibility of promoting obtainable solutions to parasites in the youth population brought about by malnutrition.

  3. tflys Says:

    This is a huge problem and I think your insight as to the problem lacking a political voice is very accurate. As you say, they are “the neglected people of Central America”. I know this by experience. I worked on a large project developing and implementing an HIV training program for health care providers in Central America. The countries involved in the program and that benefitted from it were Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic (Caribbean). So why not Belize? Because it is English speaking and the program was entirely in Spanish. It’s like Belize is the black sheep of the family. When I went to a meeting with health ministers from the different Central American countries – it was obvious that Belize tends to be left out as intervention in Spanish can’t be applied there. This obviously is not only happening with HIV, but as you point out with parasites – which I’m sure is a huge problem in the other Central American countries, but they have a larger grouping and stronger voice – whereas Belize is the small child shunned from the group. This is really a shame and needs to be changed.

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